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Review: The Healer by Donna Freitas

Review: The Healer by Donna FreitasThe Healer by Donna Freitas
Published by HarperTeen on October 9, 2018
Pages: 400
Format: ARC

Marlena Oliveira has—mysteriously, miraculously—been given the power to heal all kinds of ailments. People around the world believe she is a saint. But her power comes at a price: she can’t go to school, she can’t have friends her own age, and she certainly can’t date.
Then she meets Finn, a boy who makes her want to fall in love. For the first time, she begins to doubt whether her gift is worth all that she must give up to keep it.

I would like to first of all express thanks to Lili over at Utopia State of Mind for her ARC Adoption Program! If you have a hard time getting physical ARCs and are interested in receiving one in exchange for an honest review, she has some great ARCs looking for a loving home on this page – all you do is pay shipping. Her copy of The Healer made its way to me and I absolutely loved it. Thank you again Lili!

As I’ve mentioned in prior reviews this month, I lost my paternal grandmother – my most dearly beloved family member outside of my parents – to a brain bleed. I spent some time as I sat in the hospital beside her, absentmindedly stroking her hand with my thumb as we waited for the swelling to take her from us. While I sat there, my family talked about “saving” her – was it possible? Could we? She’d signed a DNR and was firm about her time to go being time to go – this was about her, not us, wasn’t it? If we could save her … should we?

Books have managed to hit me when I need them this month, and The Healer is no exception as it tackles this concept with aplomb.


How I’d Describe This Book to a Friend

Marlena Oliviera is 18 years old. But she’s never seen the inside of a school, nor a movie theater. She’s never driven a car, swam in the ocean, bought anything from the store, gone to a dance, worn anything other than a plain, white bridal gown. Marlena is painfully sheltered, but it’s for what she assumes is a good reason: she is a healer.

Ever since she was too small to understand – too small to comprehend what she was doing as she saved her mother’s life, as her grandparents and father passed away – Marlena has had the power to lay her hands on people and heal them of their ailments. She can see through their pain and suffering when she touches them, and somehow draws out the illness, purges it. Her life changed drastically from the moment her mother learned of this – she moved herself and Marlena into a mansion by the sea, Marlena sees audiences each Saturday to heal believers. The local stores and shops sell images of Marlena on everything from t-shirts to kites, and to Marlena this is just how life is, how it works.

And then one day, a researcher visits her audience, asks her to come visit her lab … and Marlena does something she’s never done before: steps a toe out of line, disobeys her mother’s wishes, and has her driver Jose take her to this lab. And there she meets a young, handsome assistant named Finn – her world comes crashing down around her and will never be the same from that moment on.

The Bottom Line

Marlena’s is a coming of age story, but it’s also a story of faith, of hope. Through Marlena’s eyes – her naive, young, innocent eyes – we see the cruelty of the world at large. We see her crisis of faith – is there a God? Is that where her abilities come from? And if there is a god and these are His abilities, why is she the one who drew the straw and has to deal with them? What if she doesn’t want these “powers” any more? What then?

Marlena’s desires are so tangible, you feel the same longing she does – to walk down the street and not be spotted and called out to. She wishes to be anonymous for just one day, to eat ice cream and walk along the shoreline, to buy girly magazines at the gas station and wear a cute summer dress and go swimming with the high school boys. But her mother insists on her leading this austere existence, and Marlena begrudgingly likens herself to the saints she cherishes – this is her calling from God on high, so she must bear the burdens associated with it.

We never do learn exactly why, or how, Marlena received her healing powers. But through her growing relationship with Finn she learns so much about herself, her mettle and her worth. The goal of the story is not to explain away Marlena’s abilities as you might have previously believed – rather, it’s to issue us a challenge: if you had the ability to heal and you wished it away, how far would you go to get it back for the ones you love? And what if they didn’t want to be healed?

This story is heavy for a young adult book, but unlike John Green (don’t get me started), Ms. Freitas handles the concepts of illness and death with such poise and buttery-yellow prose that I could have stayed submerged in this story forever – it never felt like 400 pages at any point, and we all know sometimes it can draaaaag. I highly recommend this to anyone who ever did believe: past, present or future.

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